I'm hopping on the theme bandwagon...this ongoing discussion in the blogosphere about onlies and siblings.
Last night, as I complained about the stinking Unwelcome Aunt currently visiting me (and yes, I used a euphemism for "menstrual cycle." I often do. My favorite is "surfing the crimson wave." Seriously, you have to have a sense of humor if your Aunt is anything like my Aunt or you'll go crazy. I'll elaborate below.), anyway, last night, as I complained about the Aunt, my husband said, "Well you could always get pregnant again."
And I replied with...
I said absolutely nothing. He waited, half joking smile on his face, eyebrows elevated...leaning across the bed towards me.
And I said absolutely nothing. I think even my face---usually even more talkative than my mouth---was silent.
He said, leaning back, "Uhhh, errrr, oookaaaayy, that fell flat. Nothing to say?"
And I shrugged, still pulling an ironic yet creditable Silent Sam.
I still have nothing to say, and yet, I'm going to use a lot of words in this blog entry to say pretty much nothing, at least on that topic.
First, I'm going to tell you why I have one child.
And interestingly, that's pretty much why I have a second child, too. But I'll save that for a second post.
It's not until now, with the "are we done yet?" looming that I hit the "Umm gee, what do I do?" Until now, the answer has been easy, obvious, clear.
But a third?
Now you've hit my pain point of pondering.
So here we go...why I have one child, and a whole lot of how...
Initially---that is to say when I got married as a mere child, my not-quite-mid-20s, wet behind the ears, spinach still fresh, the salad days were so recent---I was pretty tired of raising people. Or so I thought.
HA! I had no idea. Really.
But I had felt too much responsibility for too many people for too long and the idea---at that time in my life---of parenting made me freeze up like a tongue stuck to a pole in Boston in January.
Plus, late in college a friend's older sister, who I admired, got married. She and her groom promised five years of marriage to one another. No kids until after that. She had an incredibly well-thought through and eloquent reasoning why (build relationship, mature, get finances in order, buy a house, be a little selfish, travel, etc.), all of which appalled every single person at the bridal shower...except me, her newest convert. I determined then and there...if I married young, five years, at a minimum. I know nothing in life like that is a guarantee, but you sure can do your best.
Up to that point, I had treated birth control like a religion and I was a born-again zealot: Cover your ass and double up (that is to say, both parties need to use protection), use good judgment, one time is too much, if the condom bugs you "no sex" is always even less sensation, use it properly according to directions exactly, know your drug interactions, maximize efficacy, etc.
I'd supported friends through the "holy crap...ummm uh oh no when can I test?" panic...and a few who got the news that she was going to have a baby...or not. I’d gone with friends for testing. That would not be me, I said.
And it wasn't.
My husband liked the five year rule. Plus, when we married we were both pretty ambivalent about parenting. Smartly. We took some time to mature.
We understood people who chose to have children, but equally understood people who did not. Neither of us considered ourselves "kid people" and neither of us ever cooed over babies or got real involved. Kid stories from coworkers were amusing for about two minutes, once a week. We never had advice for parents, never thought we were any kind of expert about parenting, and frankly, did our level best to think Very Little At All about it.
Then one day 30 was staring us both in the face. Age had never mattered. We were still getting the message that we had all the time in the world. So it wasn’t age that motivated us.
I don't know what did, honestly.
Just...one Thanksgiving in the late 1990s, we decided, hey, throw caution---and all the birth control---to the wind. Let's get us a rug rat. We were smug with our secret knowledge that soon we'd add a grandchild for doting, and we'd have a gorgeous baby to adore.
But...it didn't happen.
At my annual exam my gynecologist said, relax, don't worry, you're young and fine. Three months isn't long to try to conceive. Try using charting for ovulation prediction, maximize your potential.
Then, she reassured me that six months isn't long to try to conceive. My charts looked good. All was well. Relax, don't worry, you're young and fine.
Then, she paused, at a year. She said, a year of trying with charts, we like to do a little checking. We had another exam, and she scheduled me at the hospital for an allegedly simple no big deal procedure called an HSG. This is where they inject you with dye and watch it track through your reproductive organs, to ensure All Really Is Where It Should Be and Working Fine.
I began researching on the Internet. It was a different world, almost ten years ago. I found a place called iVillage that was full of information, and wonderful, supportive women. I joined a board called Trying to Conceive and got loads of help and advice, especially about my upcoming HSG.
I prepared as any perfectionist would: following all the advice and instructions to the letter.
I lay on the table. When she injected the dye, I felt agony beyond any pain I had ever experienced. It was on par with the time I broke my back in an automobile accident. I tried to tell the doctor how much it hurt, and she told me it couldn’t possibly hurt, she told me to relax. I said something must be wrong, it hurts so much, and she said on the contrary everything was fine, and asked me what my pain threshold was to be so floored by a little cramping. It wasn’t a little cramping, and my pain threshold was pretty high.
The doctor completed the procedure and told me I could return to the adjacent dressing room and go home. I was light-headed and dizzy from the pain, and stumbled to the dressing room, where I crashed on to the toilet, voided my bowels and passed out.
I hate being so graphic, but there you have it. It was. Just that. The first milestone on the journey of massive indignity of body and spirit.
The doctor gave “good” results from the HSG and said there was no reason I shouldn’t get pregnant right away. In fact, she told us, often the HSG clears up some “slight” blockage and many people get pregnant right after it.
Although at this point we grasped on to any hope, her reassurances fell flat. My husband and I were worried. We watched friends try and succeed, right away. We handled pregnancy announcements from siblings with grace and excitement, while our own hearts broke, wondering when our turn would come. We watched friends carry home babies, all while we tried. We watched siblings have second children, all while we tried. We fielded painful, wrenching questions about when we would add in kids, too.
When we finally confessed, very slightly, that we were experiencing some trouble but would like children, we experienced frequently well-intentioned but always soul-squeezing comments:
(A) The armchair expert advice (“just quit trying, that always works” and “getting drunk always worked for us” and “have you tried the pillow trick?” and “my friend’s mother’s sister’s daughter’s friend’s sister used Herb Gravida and that is a real charm, works for everyone”)
(B) The Urban Legend (“heh, you should adopt, that always gets everyone pregnant” and “if you spin three time counterclockwise and make love in the lotus position under a full moon you’ll get pregnant for sure”)
(C) The Thoughtless Zingers (“well, you always said you didn’t think you wanted kids” and “some people just aren’t meant to be parents” and “gee I wish I had infertility instead of these three little monsters” among others)
The expectation seemed to be that I would rise above my own personal situation and pain, and make sure to not inflict it on anyone else. In other words, it wasn’t cool for me to have mixed emotions about friends’ and relatives’ fecundity.
I isolated myself more and more, pouring myself deeper into my online world of infertility friends and support networks. They understood it was perfectly possible to be happy for a fertile friend and devastated for yourself. They understood how getting a birth announcement on results day (negative) was harder than getting one during the manic depressive two week wait. They accepted all the weird superstitions because we all engaged in them together. We met online and in real life, and some of us formed a monthly dinner club. We traveled together, met for special events. We were a subculture.
I even wrote a humorous Divine Secrets of the Bitter Infertile Woman manifesto, full of terms for the fertile and infertile, and fun friends added in pieces such as “PIO darts to Fertile Myrtles who Pound us with a Thoughtless Zinger.”
PIO, for those not in the know, is Progesterone in Oil. It’s injected. And it’s all part of the infertility subculture nomenclature.
And the years passed. Treatments got more complicated and expensive. My team of specialists grew. Procedures and tests got more invasive. As did the treatments.
Sex wasn’t sex any longer. Sex was regulated by the doctor’s schedule.
Sex was for procreation. Every sperm was sacred, and the best had to be saved for the lab.
Procreation wasn’t two people making love in a rose petal strewn bed, surrounded by candlelight. It was feet up, stirrups out, speculum in, two nurses, a doctor and a lab tech.
It wasn’t Us. It wasn’t private.
But…we couldn’t give up. With each transition to Bigger Gun treatment, we reflected. We wondered when it would be time to move on. It ate us up inside, were we doing the right thing. Our doctor mandated counseling. We had to have a mental health all clear before going forward. We also had monthly disease, STD, AIDS, and other physiological checks. And my body was poked, prodded, drained of blood, injected with more intense drugs. I had internal sonograms every day, watching follicles grow. I had blood tested every day, checking hormone levels. I started each and every day in the doctor’s lab the first couple of weeks of my cycle. I spent each day waiting for The Call.
And then my husband and I had to juggle in the complicated timing of trigger, extraction and insertion.
Then we tried to settle in to---or distract ourselves as completely as possible---during the interminable two week wait. Waiting to find out whether this time, this time was The Time.
More time passed. And we’d never even achieved a pregnancy.
We signed up for an adoption seminar, and to our surprise, found ourselves primarily interested in semi-open domestic. We began choosing an agency. I started a portable file, and we started making up our Sell Ourselves book to try to attract and appeal to the women who decided adoption was the least worst/best solution for them. We met birth parents, adult adoptees, adoptive parents. We learned a lot about what adoption was, and wasn’t. We gained respect for everyone involved, and learned about attachment, attachment disorders, and grief, as well as patience, reward, and joy.
We’d spent years, literally, working to prove ourselves worthy of parenthood.
We had to show ourselves physically, mentally, and spiritually worthy of parenthood.
A state it seemed most other people achieved simply by deciding to.
But not us.
We had to wait to hit the lottery, to be chosen. We had to hope that the doctor didn’t find anything wrong, because he could yank the plug at any time, and twice he threatened to. When that happened, I knew how drug addicts felt. I learned what begging was. With each “sorry, it’s negative” call, I learned how disease patients felt. I learned what it meant to have your body betray you and not work. I learned how it felt to walk through the world “not right.”
We measured life in two-part cycles: the two week build-up (which went fairly quickly, and was very busy) and the two week wait (which was neverending).
Testing day was a day you simply got through, somehow, and hoped people didn’t notice your voice was too high all day, and your smile too tight. You assured the doctor’s office they could call you at work, and each time, you thanked God for your office door.
The entire time you marveled at what you were willing to go through to become parents, and suddenly, you realized how very much you wanted to parent.
Our epiphany was simply that we wanted to be parents, and weren’t picky about how that happened. That is why, unlike some of our infertile friends, we felt very comfortable with pursuing treatment. And that is why, unlike some of our infertile friends, we felt very comfortable with adoption.
We took some time---valuable time, time it hurt to take, time we had to take but worried, oh my God what if this was our only window? What if we blow it? Lose it? Will we always wonder?---to decide whether it was time to give up on infertility treatment and move on to adoption. We believed for us it had to be a choice.
Our doctor convinced us to sign up for the in vitro fertilization class because there had been advancement in the years we’d spent in treatment.
I did the usual blood draw qualifier, and we sat through the class. For us it was a formality because I’d been vicariously through it with so many friends. We listened, and we still wondered whether we could do it.
Later that day, the nurse called me. I heard her voice and name on my voicemail at work, and wondered what paperwork we’d forgotten to fill out. I called her back. She asked me where I was, and if it was private. I said yes. She said she needed to tell me something, and I needed to be strong.
This is always the part where your stomach turns to a rock and drops like a lead zeppelin to your feet, while your esophagus rolls up and clogs your throat.
She said, “You have a positive beta. It’s only 20. That’s not actually pregnant. You’d need a 100 at least for that. So, it’s either some residual trigger, which would be odd, because you should have metabolized that by now, you have an ectopic pregnancy, or you are miscarrying.”
She asked about blood, and I said I had thought I’d started my period that day.
She told me to come in for a blood draw in two days, to make sure “it” was complete.
We cried together on the phone. A baby found, finally, and lost, all in the same moment.
I thought about the medical term---aborter---and how it would be added to my chart. I thought of my friend, who had been through this ten times, and how the medical term “habitual aborter” was on her chart. And I cried some more, for both of us.
I called my husband and tried to tell him. He didn’t understand, and he got hopeful. Which made me hope, even though the nurse had said this wasn’t a pregnancy. Even though she’d said at this point anything less than 100 wasn’t real, and cited the medical certainty, the odds.
When I got the next results, it had gone up. To 40. I was still “not really pregnant.” That’s less than “sort of pregnant” but not quite “not pregnant at all.”
It was a hellish purgatory.
And my heart ached every minute. I wanted that baby. I willed my body to hold on to that baby, even while the doctor started talking ectopic, and drugs to abort, and so forth. I hoped I was right, I hoped I wasn’t doing something wrong by hoping and hanging on. I was so used to questioning and second-guessing myself, and what was meant to be by this point, though.
I kept thinking there couldn’t possibly be a rug left under me to yank out. But there was.
My next result was 60. Then 80. Then 100.
At that point, I asked whether I was “sort of pregnant” yet. The nurse said yes, but begged me to not get attached.
Too late. I was attached. I was involved. My lips moved all day, praying and praying. My friends made chains. My infertile friends. The only ones---beyond my doctor, his nurse, and my husband---who knew. The only ones I trusted to understand.
I crossed my legs obsessively, hoping in some twisted way of thinking that this would hold the baby in.
My numbers kept going up. The sonogram showed a little seed in the right spot. And the numbers kept climbing.
My doctor wanted permission to note this, if I had a live birth. It would be a record low beta that lasted.
Suddenly, I felt pregnant, with a real possibility of a real baby. I felt a little hopeful. And a lot fearful. I waited for my body to fail again. I waited for something to not work right. I wondered how my reproductive organs would fail me, and I hated myself a little, a lot because already I worried whether I could protect my growing baby.
Life. Healthy and live. Please. Please God. Healthy and live. My brain kept this prayer on continuous cycle for nine months.
In my second trimester, my doctor released me to a regular OB. This was a new OB, one used to the fragile mental state of the long-term infertility patient. This OB understood, as did his nursing staff, the complexity of a post-IF pregnancy for many women, me being a prime case. Heartbeat checks any time I needed reassurance. Patience for the tons for questions I had, “Was this okay/normal/etc.”
I quit reading any of the pregnancy books, because my pregnancy wasn’t like any of those, and they all scared me because of that.
My pregnancy was symptom-less.
I hardly even had a bump at six months.
Sometimes I wondered if this was a hysterical manifestation of my mind.
I was super high-maintenance. You’d think this was the first pregnancy in the history of the world, annoyed relatives would say. It was. It was MY first pregnancy in MY history of MY world. It wasn’t like anything else.
I felt 100% attuned to and connected with my growing baby. It felt 100% right. When my heart was at work, I felt utter peace and confidence that this baby girl was okay.
A girl. When we found out, my husband and I whooped and shouted and laughed and cried and hugged in joy. The technician said, “Wow, you must have REALLY wanted a girl! What, do you have three boys at home?”
And we said, “This is our first. We’re just so excited to find out. We don’t care the sex. But now we know she’s a SHE.” It was our first big step to knowing her, to being a family of three. We knew which pronoun to use, and what names to consider.
She was coming.
Sometimes my head took control, and I overanalyzed every twinge, or non-twinge, symptom or non-symptom.
I tried to act like I thought I should, and feel like I thought I should. I tried to tell myself it was over, I was pregnant, it was over, but instead my infertility weighed on me like an albatross.
For the record, pregnancy does not cure infertility. People just think it does. They think it is simply a physical issue. It’s not.
Still, past, albatross or not…we were having a baby. A baby. A baby girl! She was coming. We created a nursery and devoted ourselves to coming parenthood with the same intensity we had devoted to trying to get pregnant. And that, my friends, is a lot of intensity.
The pregnancy went so swimmingly well, that I had almost begun to believe it would all be okay. In labor, though, my defects resumed their position in the limelight. I couldn’t progress. My cervix wouldn’t dilate. My canal was awkward. The baby was stuck. I hard-labored for over 40 hours, and both the baby and I were in distress. I was so tired, I didn’t care about anything any more. I told the doctor to do whatever he had to do, I didn’t care. He asked me to dig deep, and try one last time, and, with a lot of people pulling and tugging, a vacuum, and the very last bit of me (or so it felt) she was OUT!
There came my second wind.
Never was a baby so welcomed or loved, we thought.
So, as my husband would say, we donned our parenthood mantle willingly, eagerly, and joyfully. Our baby, our little family, it was too wonderful. We were in love. We loved. It was clear…more. More would be better. We couldn’t add on to our family soon enough.
But, as before, life had other plans…
By Julie Pippert
© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced. R.E.S.P.E.C.T that. Please. If you want to use something, write me.
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